6 Steps to Stop Your Controlling Behavior

how to stop controlling the people you love

“You’re so controlling!” Has that ever been said to you? It’s been said to me and it was true! Rather than own it at that time, I went with the classic blaming method and excuse-making. I also hid behind my “Type A” personality excuse.

Fast forward time, I can now see, my control was rooted in fear. Before I talk about how fear motivates control, let’s back up and talk about control.

anxiety workbook mock up

Control is defined as the power to direct people’s behavior or the course of events.

The problem with controlling behavior is, it’s not part of God’s purpose for your life. When we engage in patterns outside of God’s purpose for us, joy and peace will leak out of our lives. This pattern is also very damaging to relationships. “I like being controlled”, said …No One. Ever. It causes intimacy and communication to head for the door. Nobody wants that.

Control always starts out so subtly with quick wins. Huh? Let me explain. We usually start by feeling a little anxious, so we control just a small thing and the anxiety gets relieved. That relief is a quick win. It does not yield lasting results, but it is fast acting.

Let’s face it… We love quick wins, immediate gratification and anything fast-acting. The downside is we end up chasing quick wins and then we have a pattern. Next thing you know, “You’re so controlling!”

Ugh! Nobody wants to be that person. So what is motivating the control? …Fear!

  • Fear of what others think
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Fear of experiencing emotional pain
  • Fear of loss of control
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of disappointment
  • Fear, fear, fear  (this is not an exhaustive list, by the way)

Changing Patterns of Controlling Behavior

1. Awareness is key. We first have to know the difference between what is in our control and what is not.

controlling behavior

You are absolutely in control of your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. You are not in control of other’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This does not mean you shouldn’t be concerned with other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions, but we are releasing the idea or attempts to control others or circumstances. We are choosing to entrust our concerns to God.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power, love and self-control. ~2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

2. Put your desire for changing controlling behavior into words. Confession is powerful. It sheds light on darkness and it’s power is crushed. Talk with someone who is seasoned in their faith that will encourage and pray for you while keeping you accountable.

3. Journal for deeper understanding of the “why’s”. When we understand why we are controlling others or circumstances, we can effectively address the root of the problem…fear!

It’s like pulling weeds. We can just mow them down so it all looks okay at the surface, but pulling them out at the root is more effective. The same goes for patterns of relating. If we try to do better outwardly only, we will grow weary. Instead, let’s get to the heart of the problem.

If you decide journaling is the way to go, then use this suggested formula:

  • What happened (identify a time you were controlling)?
  • How did you feel / respond?
  • What were you afraid would happen if you didn’t intervene or try to control the situation?
  • How could you have responded without controlling or intervening?
  • What will you do differently next time?

4. Recognize God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. When we control, we’re actually saying, “God can’t/won’t handle this my way, so I will”. He is in control over all things.

“I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted”. ~Job 42:2(NIV)

5. Choose to trust in God with all the things that concern you rather than try to control the outcome. I remember a Beth Moore study I did years ago and something she said never left me… “Control is a screaming testament of your distrust in God”. Ouch! It resonated with me. Who do you trust more… The Creator of the world or yourself?

6. Hold your desires loosely. When I find myself headed down that path of controlling behavior, it means I’m holding my desires with a tight fist. My fear becomes – things aren’t going to go the way I want them to. Translated: My sovereign, trustworthy God might have a different plan than what I have planned. My prayer becomes – prepare my heart for Your plans.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. ~Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

“Stop Controlling Behavior” Take Away

God’s purpose for His people does not include controlling others or circumstances. He’s got something better in mind… That you would trust Him and His plans for your life (gasp!).

First, we uncover the fear that’s driving the control. As we become increasingly aware of much-needed change, we recognize God is in control and trustworthy. So we hold our plans loosely. Time to practice new patterns!

These steps require more than knowing… It requires doing. New patterns take practice. The temptation to control will still pop up, but now you have a plan!

What area of your life needs to be moved from your grasp and into God’s hands? Leave a comment!

33 Comments

  1. Noelle on December 3, 2018 at 9:11 am

    My 15 yr old son is so disobedient. He is violent towards me and his 17 year old brother. He smashes things I like eg, my favorite cup , ornaments that are years old , that I have gathered up. He smashes up his room. He has stopped going to school. He is not a nice person to be around. How can i allow this to happen to me and my other son and our property. There has to be a difference in control id this is happening. I am worn out

    • Sunshyne on December 5, 2018 at 5:39 pm

      Hi Noelle, I don’t think this article is relating to your situation. I would recommend seeing a counselor to help you with parenting in a difficult situation such as this. I also think there is more going on beneath the surface with your 15year old son, he would benefit from seeing a counselor as well to get to the heart of why he is acting out with anger and violence. It sounds like your heart is to get to the bottom of this. Keep prayerfully seeking answers! Here is a link to find a Christian Counselor in your area through Focus on the Family… https://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/christian-counselors-network

    • Preston on May 26, 2020 at 6:17 am

      I have a very difficult time with anxious controlling in relationships. I don’t make demands or literally try to physically control the situation that way. I essentially fight or flight each scenario. I either get angry and say “how could you be this way if you love me if it was really godly love towards me…?” Or just retreating emotionally and physically in an ever impending sense of doom of what she is or will do to me/us or even just herself (current gf). I married my high school sweetheart at 22 who was a devout Christian at the time. Five years into our marriage, I found out she was essentially a functioning alcoholic and had been extremely adulterous with many partners and in very vindictive ways. She never gave an exclamation to me or her family as to why. She would only say that she wanted to “find herself”, was very haughty and would never apologize. All the fears I ever had in life from growing up a harsh childhood or encompassed by her as it turned out. An overbearing mother, apassive father, and no real financial or spiritual or emotional security. I was essentially a slave hand on a farm, to the degree that child protective services paid our home a visit when I was young after people and community noticed the harsh cold conditions, lack of basic needs being met, and demands of my parents. I later put myself through college, I’ve been in law enforcement for 14yrs, serve in the Army, and have remained unmarried since the divorce 8 yrs ago. I struggle with what the world calls controlling, and what God says is essential character traits for a suitable mate and what is loving behavior within a Godly marriage. I have crushing anxious fear when it comes to abandonment, paranoia, and the possibility of my partner denying me and wanting another man. I find that many people say that I am controlling because I adhere to Got boundaries and morals in every day living. It is very difficult for me to navigate what is a reasonable fear, my overbearing anxiety paranoia, and what is truly sinful unrealistic fear driven behavior. I also struggle with what God says I should be as a leader in the relationship, my strong discernment, versus what is actually sinfully controlling. I don’t want to be controlling as God sees it. Sometimes I think I’m controlling as the world sees it, which I guess is to be expected. Nowadays, telling someone they shouldn’t cheat on their spouse is considered nowadays, telling someone they shouldn’t cheat on their spouse is considered controlling “controlling“. I want to be a sweet, strong, compassionate, protector and leader, not a controlling cynical monster. WhileI am essentially fearless, to a fault perhaps, when it comes to what I do for a living, my time in the military, and spiritual and physical danger is otherwise….I live in a prison of fear when it comes to romantic relationships. I truly think that I have some sort of developed PTSD from my childhood and marriage that is like a haunting fear mongering ghosts that won’t go away…. Or perhaps it is the Holy Spirit, and discernment coming from God that is trying to warn me of actual real dangers…. I can’t seem to get clarity. When I try to express myself or voice concerns, my girlfriend says I am a when I try to express myself or voice concerns, my girlfriend says I am a deep thinker “deep thinker”, and its hard for her to handle. I feel trapped, hopeless, like an annoying bother, and unable to meet her needs. I want to please God, please my girlfriend, and treat her where she feels valued and loved.
      Lord, please help me.

      • Preston on May 26, 2020 at 6:24 am

        I apologize for all the typos and confusion up there. I’m just exhausted and was using voice text….

      • Anson on November 29, 2020 at 7:01 pm

        I hope these words are encouraging to you. You are not alone. I had suffered in my childhood of rejection and now in my mid life, my wife an kid sometimes don’t treat me the way I “deserve”. They mock me and my faith and leadership. But, I think God is trying to tell me to stay the course of being Christ like. My wife spat on my face twice one time and all I could think about was Jesus. Oh how much more was He mocked and jeered yet He has compassion, love, and forgiveness. It’s sooooo hard for me sometimes because I’ve punched walls, screamed at God (don’t recommend doing these things BTW) but God is sovereign. Once I said to God “Why can’t you give me a good marriage, a good wife?” And He said audibly “would you rather have a perfect wife or would you want to be like Me?” Oh, how the tears fell when I said “You God….”. Blessings bro. We are the Body of Christ and I feel you. Let’s finish this race strong. Fight the good fight.

      • Wendy on February 10, 2021 at 1:33 pm

        Dear Preston,
        I know what you are going through, because I have the same issues.
        Please pray the Rosary, with love , like you are talking to a friend and you’ll be delivered.
        This has healed me and restored the peace and union with my husband (and believe me, he could not take my controlling behaviour anymore. )
        Get on your knees and fight and watch miracles to happen. For God, everything is possible and He is anxious for you to come to Him.
        Grtz Wen

  2. Ilze on February 1, 2019 at 2:25 am

    Hi Sunshyne

    I’m struggle in leaving my life in God’s hands. I’m shy talking about the way i’m feeling. It feels as if I attacking God. I’m a step by step person and I have no clue where to start on having a good relationship with God and let Him take control over my life. How to not stress about anything and leave it to God.

    • Sunshyne on February 1, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Hi Ilze, Thank you for sharing so transparently. I believe we all struggle to one extent or another with entrusting our life to God! You said you have no clue where to start…I have a verse for you. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17. Pray for more faith, He is faithful to help you, and begin studying His Word. Make time daily for both and you will begin to see your faith grow:)

  3. Babygirl on March 31, 2019 at 7:12 am

    Last Thursday my husband said he wanted a divorce. My heart broke! He said if I can’t change my controlling ways then he can’t stay. I never realized until we talked about it that I was controlling. My fears started you when sexual assaults happened. Five times in my life I was assaulted and controlled. I know now fear leads me to be someone I am not and I am going to start counseling soon so I can stay me again and not turn to be controlling. Your article really put more into perspective for me. For two days now I have felt more like the me my husband married. I am calmer, I am not letting everything get to me and I feel more feeling and love from my husband. He too is enjoying this me and I plan to stay this way! Anymore advice would help, so if you have any please share!

  4. Matt on June 9, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    I find myself trying to control my girlfriend’s health in terms of what she does/does not consume. As an extremely health-conscious individual myself, where every decision I make concerning food is extremely calculated, I have found myself trying to force the same mindset upon her. I don’t mean to do it in a way that is harmful, and my intent is simply to reinforce and encourage healthy behaviors. However, I fail to do that, and instead, come across as far-too controlling, trying to get her to bend to my will. I hate that I do this, and so badly want to let go of control, while still setting a good example and being an encouraging person in her life. How does one let go of control, and instead become a positive influence towards a healthy lifestyle?

    I appreciate you writing this article and will try to focus on letting God in to this area of my life, and journaling to help with the process.

    • Sunshyne on June 13, 2019 at 12:54 pm

      You are so insightful, Matt. Awareness is the first step to changing! When journaling, focus on the “why”…what is motivating your control? It is hard to peel back that layer…but grasp onto grace. God knows our heart, be prayerful in the process. Praying for you too! Sunshyne

  5. […]  Learn 6 strategies to stop controlling behavior here. […]

  6. salem on November 25, 2019 at 2:33 am

    I am so thankful for the amazing insight u gave me. I want to stop controlling my boyfriends activity and to let go of controlling him and I really want to practice anxiety free life
    thank you

    • Sunshyne on December 1, 2019 at 9:45 am

      Hi Salem! I’m glad you found the article helpful:) Challenging the fears that lead to control is key! Hang in there-doing a new thing takes time, but when we are walking in God’s best for us He equips us and helps us to make change:)

  7. bren on November 27, 2019 at 5:29 am

    this is crazy awesome. i feel like this is exactly where God is leading me to finding out my source of fear. i try to control my boys in what they eat, what they do, their school work, their friends, and it all leads back to myself not feeling all that great about myself. i know God defines me, so i guess i’m not completely believing Him and trusting Him.. i hate that thought, but it must be true because i am stuck in this cycle of control and pretending i’m getting better at it and He’s still here trying to show me something that i’m afraid to see and trusting myself over Him.. ughh

    • Sunshyne on December 1, 2019 at 9:42 am

      Hi Bren! Thank you for sharing so transparently:) I think control is so common when we are feeling anxious…it brings a sense of security when we think we are in control! Check out this workbook… …it helps get to the bottom of “why” we are trying to control through a specific journaling guide. Praying for you!

      • Kay on January 8, 2020 at 1:01 am

        Hi, Thank you for sharing your wisdom, it really brought comfort to my heart. I’ve suffered abandonment, fear of failure, and anxiety these past few years due to things of my childhood. I’m 22 years old however, my parents divorcing and the relationship that I lost with my dad has had a bigger hold on me than I thought. I’m preparing to become a wife soon, but I know there are still things in me that would cripple my future marriage. Many of the things stem from control, or the fear of the lack there of. Though I believe I trust God… because I see controlling behavior within myself, I know that in some ways I haven’t been trusting him enough. How can I better practice letting go of my controlling tendencies and anxious attitude from fear of failure and rejection, to prepare me to be a submissive wife daily?

  8. Lo on April 26, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    This article spoke to me, many times I had deep sighs in realization of fears. I have been on a journey to renew my mind as I have learned that I have a bitter heart and even some depression that is mentally exhausting. Any who, I feel like I do great with releasing many things out of my control to God, the bigger things but it’s the small things that cause me anxiety. I am a mother of 2 with one on the way, 5yo, 3yo, and God willing, a newborn in June. I find myself wanting to control many things, and it is causing me so much anxiety now that I know it’s an issue. I am mentally battling myself. All in all, thank you for this article and the journal sheets, I’m exited to add it to my daily mind renewal process.

    • Sunshyne Gray on April 26, 2020 at 6:44 pm

      Hi Lo! Thank you for stopping by and sharing so transparently😊. Praying God uses the journaling worksheet to help reduce fear that drives control.

  9. Ralph on April 29, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    Hi Sunshyne!
    I have a control problem with my youngest daughter. I think that it all started when she was about 14. She made a few mistakes that were pretty traumatic and caused me to lose trust in her. That’s where my fear and anxiety started. That’s around the time I became very controlling in her life. Now she is 19 and I still haven’t let go of trying to control her. A couple of days ago when her, my older daughter and myself were riding in the car and she jokingly called her sister something really bad. It started eating at me because she and I had talked a few times about how people see you when you use that type of language and she always agreed that she didn’t want to be like that, so I was really shocked to hear that come from her mouth. It slowly ate at me until I blew up. Like a person possessed I screamed at her. Afterwards, when reality hit and I seen what I had done, I was hurting so bad and hated myself. To this day I see her face over and over with the tears running down her face and it kills me for what I have done. She has distanced herself from me and I can’t blame her. I can’t understand why or how I could keep hurting someone that I love so much. My heart is hurting just knowing that I have become the toxic person in her life. She is my heart and I really am hoping that God can heal all that I have destroyed. This morning I searched for God’s help on ways to stop being so controlling and I really think that God guided me to this article. I think that there is something significant in your name (Sunshyne), because I call her my Sunshine. I pray that God will teach, restore and heal our relationship, and I ask for prayers from everyone reading this. God bless you and your article that it fulfills its purpose. Thank you so much!

    • Sunshyne Gray on May 1, 2020 at 9:05 am

      Thank you so much for sharing so transparently- in your comment above, you have fully taken responsibility- I would encourage you to start there with your daughter and share all you shared above with her. Confession to one another and before God is the first step and you have bravely taken that step. I’m so glad the article was helpful to you and praying for you now as you seek to change and restore relationship:)

  10. Renee on May 21, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    Hello sunshyne! I am only recently discovering how much I try and control the people around me as well as everything that I am handed in life. My husband, of only a year has pointed out just how much of a control freak I am. I really don’t know just yet how deep this goes for me or how long I’ve even been this way. But just through a real close self examination I can admit that he is right and I do this a lot. I’m really doing a lot of praying and seeking to be able to stop this bad behavior of mine.

  11. Nia on May 29, 2020 at 3:45 am

    Today, I have realized my need for control and I am desperately praying for freedom in this area of my life. I recognize that control has made me feel safe. But my Father also wants to take that burden from me. I may have been left vulnerable as a child, my Heavenly Father wants His job back?- He wants to protect me, provide for me, take care of me; It’s a parent job and delight to care for their child. It is NOT my job to take care of God and everyone/everything else. Please pray with me for freedom!

  12. Sidney h on December 9, 2020 at 2:09 am

    Thank you for sharing. Everything you said about trying to control others is out if fear. I have a 20 year old who is suffering today with anxiety and seizures because I am very controlling. I try to tell him what to eat and when to eat becausecI am afraid that he will get obsessed and he is. The bible said that the thing which I fear has come upon me. That is so true. I am obsessed with being slim and healthy and I throw that on him. I really am crying out to God for help and now that I have read your article I know God wants to help me. I have given it to God and I know that my deliverance is very near. Thank you.

    • Sidney h on December 9, 2020 at 2:38 am

      I wanted to say obesed and not obsessed. Sorry for the error.

  13. Rosie on July 5, 2021 at 9:04 pm

    This was amazing. It really helped me. It is fear. That is definitely the root of it.

  14. Louise on August 20, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    I am separated from my husband and we recently decided to start working on the marriage again. My husband has mental health problems and is very dysfunctional. These things make it impossible to have a healthy relationship. There are so many things he needs to sort out (therapy, medication, financial issues, health issues) and I keep falling into the role of his advisor/controller in an attempt to have these things addressed so that we can start working on the marriage. How do I stop controlling in these areas when I feel like if I don’t, there’s no way forward for the relationship?

    • Ann on October 24, 2021 at 8:17 am

      I need help. I’ve had three marriages where I am accused of being controlling. I don’t want to loose this marriage. Are there books to read? Meds to take? That’s the controller in me looking for a quick fix.

  15. Jackie Doty on November 1, 2021 at 8:10 am

    Great article!

  16. Gretchen on February 18, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    My whole life I need him to take control it has fallen apart around me. My daughter is depressed bc the more I pushed for the life I thought she deserved the more distance I put between us and the lonelier she got. My love for a man the more I envisioned the life I wanted for us the more I pushed him away until I don’t know if he will ever want to return. I seen issues that I had already been through and tried to stop him from making the same mistakes as me to save him the pain but it became a toxic control issue that I know now I can’t fix only God can. I have to set fear and worry aside and give it to him bc it’s not in my control. I know now that this controlling nature came from past pain that I felt and fear of rejection loss of love and fear of my life not being in my hands

  17. Jakobe Anthony on May 2, 2022 at 5:08 am

    I have an issue with controlling as well…I have trouble with controlling in a relationship. I have been cheated on numerous times, and I overthink 24/7, 365 about stuff that doesnt actually happen. I always want to know whats going on, when she says she wants to surprise me, I get angry and want to know now… I also hold myself to a high standard, that is ridiculously high..I dont wanna have this behavior anymore….And i dont want to see a therapist, so how can i fix this myself…

    • Jakobe Anthony on May 2, 2022 at 5:14 am

      I am afraid to lose her, when in reality, im pushing her away more and more with this said behavior. Eventually she is going to leave and I want to make change, but change hasnt been a part of my life that I have experienced, so I dont know how to do what needs to be done to prevent said behavior. The fear of her being with someone else scares me but no one wants to be controlled in a relationship, so I need serious help on how to fix my problem…Its long overdue that I finally try and fix my issue, but I have no clue how to stop being compulsive and controlling…and Im out of options other than to fix it

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